What Can I Give My Rabbit For Arthritis?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the edition Bunny Business

Updated June 19, 2024

You’re about to see what happens when a pet species isn’t big business.

Our page on treating arthritis in dogs shows you lots of choices.
Our page on treating arthritis in cats shows you a few choices.
There is no registered treatment for arthritis in rabbits.

That doesn’t stop us though. All rabbits that live to old age have some degree of arthritis. In my experience, they all do better on treatment.

Old age, by the way, is over ten years. Most rabbits don’t live that long due to a combination of poor housing and poor diet. However, if you look after your rabbit properly it’s totally normal to reach these lifespans.

Symptoms of Arthritis in Rabbits

Despite the pain, signs are usually vague and can be just one of the following:

  • Reduced jumping height or ability
  • Reluctance to use stairs
  • More time spent resting
  • Objection to handling
  • Changes in litter box use
  • Reduced activity
  • Changes in resting areas
  • A poorly groomed coat
  • Posture change
  • Faeces stuck to the bottom, or flystrike
  • Bumblefoot or sore hocks
  • Weakness in the hind legs: read other causes of back leg problems in rabbits here.

I find that most good rabbit owners will bring it to my attention, not the other way around. Look at the rabbit pictured above for example. You can see:

  • faecal staining around the rear caused by not sitting properly to poop
  • the pink colour of a sore hock caused by prolonged pressure
  • an abnormal posture

Treatment of Rabbit Arthritis

So let’s get these rabbits feeling and moving better.

Home Care

Before talking about medication, it’s important to not forget lifestyle changes. Food and water need to be put in easily reached places. Litter boxes need shallow sides so that it isn’t painful to get in or out. Sometimes slippery floors need carpet runners to add grip.

Nails will need trimming more often and hard to reach areas of the coat may need brushing to prevent matting.

Weight Loss

Weight loss is incredibly important for arthritic cats and dogs but less so for rabbits. That’s because the diet that encourages a long life is also the one that has been shown to promote a healthy weight.

Most old rabbits I see are not fat at all, but if they were, I would recommend following our rabbit feeding advice.

Meloxicam

The most important arthritis drug for rabbits is meloxicam. It is a very effective anti-inflammatory and should make an obvious difference for rabbits in pain. It’s also very easy to give as it comes as a palatable liquid.

A word of warning, though: the effective dose of meloxicam for rabbits is thought to be much higher than that used in other common species. Your vet will be able to provide more information. If you are giving a lower dose, you might reject meloxicam as being useless without giving it a chance to help.

I and many other rabbit vets use meloxicam daily without seeing adverse effects. I have also had many elderly patients on meloxicam for many years without seeing a problem. For greatest efficacy it’s probably best given in the morning as rabbits may metabolise the drug quite quickly.

Tramadol & Gabapentin

I have also used tramadol in a handful of rabbits. I reserve it for cases when meloxicam alone is no longer enough.  It appears to give improvement, but it’s hard to tell. The latest thinking is to try another drug called gabapentin instead. I have yet to try this personally but I don’t expect miracles.

It’s very important for rabbit owners to understand that if they choose to use meloxicam, gabapentin or tramadol, they do so at their own risk. Although these drugs appear to work well, they are untested and we cannot guarantee their safety or even predict what might go wrong.

I do not believe there is enough evidence to recommend any other treatments. I hope I have given you enough to help your rabbit and would welcome your thoughts.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

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30 Replies to “What Can I Give My Rabbit For Arthritis?”

  1. What are your thoughts on Gabapentin. I noticed you mentioned it but don’t use it. Why ? Thanks

    1. Hi Susan. Nothing much has changed since I wrote this article in that I have too little experience with gabapentin to comment.

  2. Hey our rabbit turned 4 on 18 august we found ou in april he got arthritus hebon moloxaid is therevanything else to help him

    1. Hi Vicky. You’re doing the most important thing. There are no doubt other treatments, but they would be more experimental.

  3. Hello, our elderly rabbit was displaying signs of arthritis so I brought him to the vet. Our vet agreed and prescribed Meloxidyl. She said it could affect his kidneys and maybe we should only it to him as needed. It has been about a month and initially, we had to treat him every couple of days, then every few days. He made it four days without showing issues with his back legs and now we had to dose him after 2 days. Should we stick with dosing as he shows signs or should we dose an amount daily? He is about 12 years old and we know his days are numbered. Rabbits do not signal when they are in pain. We are curious as to what the best dosing should be.

    1. Hi David. That really is a question, best addressed to your vet who knows your rabbit’s other health issues, but my view is that pain should always be best treated and that risks are worth taking in most cases for the quality of life gains. I usually treat rabbits daily in my clinic. However, it’s a decision that is very personal.

  4. Has anyone tried photobiomodulation therapy on their arthritic rabbit? Our vet offers it for dogs, but said it wouldn’t work on our rabbit.

    1. Is that the same as cold laser therapy? I would say YES, it helps! For my bunny (10 yo), I’d say acupuncture and meloxicam really helps too. The acupuncture appears to work right away (he gets more active when we get home from the vet) and the meloxicam definitely work right away too. It’s been chilly and on rainy days (including before it starts), he’s in a lot more pain. His vet gave us gabapentin last week but now I’m reading about the addictive nature etc. so will be asking the doc if I can save that for especially bad days. I’m also trying to get him PEMF therapy (Assisi loop or via a multitasking infrared mat). Another thing that really really helps is an infrared light bulb (like those chicken/farm brooder lamps) and/or also a black-out (non light emitting) terranium lamp (sold for reptiles). If I don’t have on of those on, he’ll be in a lot of pain. We live together indoors (my rabbits are free roam era) and he has the choice to be near or under the lamp or move away as is most comfortable. Be ready for lot of happy noises and purring from being near the warmth! BUT be sure you’re able to monitor and be present when the lamps are on cause they can start fires or kill!!

  5. Hi Andrew, thank you for the informative post. I’m wondering if arthritis might explain why my 9 year old rabbit sometimes struggles to get up from lying down. She kicks and takes a couple of seconds to right herself. She has been diagnosed with arthritis, but I wondered if maybe it was a seizure. Does this sound like arthritis to you? Thank you.

    1. Hi Lea. That does sound like arthritis in rabbits, but seizures and struggling to get up can look very similar. The best thing to do is take a video and show it to your vet.

    2. I’m not an expert but my rabbit has arthritis mainly in one hind leg. I can only assume that you would struggle greatly to stand up if you only had one leg.

  6. Hi Andrew,

    For clarification, for meloxicam, you mentioned [deleted] mg/kg. Does that mean [deleted]?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Tobey. It scares me to imagine people trying to treat their rabbits without veterinary assistance. Therefore I have deleted dose rates. These will need to be judged by your vet on a case by case basis.

  7. Have ypu heard of using Adequan in rabbits? I have an approximate 11 year old rabbit with arthritis. I have been using Metacam PRN but wasnt forsure if Adequan cpuld be used in additon. I am an LVT but work at a mixed aninal practice that sees dogs, cats and farm animals mainly.

    1. Hi Vanessa,

      Did you ever try adequan? I’m this now with my rabbit, but it’s still early. Hoping to hear from others experience, as I’ve heard mixed reviews. Which ever medication has pros and cons.

  8. what are your thoughts about using trimeth/sulfa liquid? 1.7 ml every 12 hours for 10 days? Does/would this help for arthritis?

      1. The vet took x rays and said my rabbit had arthritis in spots and prescribed the above medication and said it would help with the inflammation from the arthritis. My vet is supposed to be an exotic/rabbit knowledgeable veterinary doctor. I need to know if this medication is safe as my rabbit had a seizure today after 3 days of use of the above medication.

  9. Hi Andrew,
    What are your thoughts on Meloxicam in a geriatric rabbit? Our rabbit is on this drug for arthritis but has recently had a quick onset kidney issue. Wondering if Meloxicam is contributing to the renal failure, helping it, or not making any difference from that perspective. Conflicting research papers online.
    Best,
    Nick

    1. Hi Nick. I’m not aware of the literature, but meloxicam is commonly used in quite high doses in rabbits without kidney problems, so it’s hard to say if it’s connected in your case. If you continue on with it the main thing is to monitor the kidney function closely.

  10. My vet recommended a course of Synovan in addition to Meloxicam. Can you provide any info regarding that treatment?

  11. Hello.
    Thank you for your comments included herein. They have been valuable.
    Given your comments re treatment protocols (for arthritis in rabbits) with Meloxicam at 1mg/kg, would you be able to hazard a guess as regards a dosage regimen for Ibuprofen as a reasonable substitute? Intended for a male Flemish rabbit of around 3.5kg and around five years of age.
    Many thanks for any assistance.

    Alex

    1. Hi Alex. If I had any usage information about ibuprofen I would have included it above. NSAIDs in animals are extremely dangerous drugs; you can only use the ones that have been shown to be safer. Even then you have to be very careful.

  12. Laser therapy is now a wonderful
    Option for our Lola, age 7. She’s part Flemish bunny, indoor only and weighing 9 lbs. It helps with discomfort and mobility at this time.

    1. What is laser therapy and how do you do it? What affect did you notice before and after?
      My rabbit is 9, he is missing his hind leg, and his arthritis is making it impossible to get up himself and move around. Want to make his pain go away.

      1. Hi Sabrina. There is probably no evidence for laser therapy in rabbits, but you can read an article I wrote about it in dogs here.

      2. My rabbit is 8 and has been having trouble with arthritis, my vet recommended we do laser therapy for him and we’ve been doing laser therapy sessions for 5 months now. The laser therapy definitely did help my bun and relieve some some problems due to his arthritis, but I’m not sure if it wears off or if his arthritis visit got worse because it’s not working as it used to and he’s having trouble urinating in his litter box. Laser therapy is definitely worth a shot in my opinion though!

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